Tampa, FL

REVIEW: Flan Factory Tampa Serves An Inspiring Cuban Sandwich And Wide-Variety Of Flan Flavors On The Tip Of Ybor City

Carlos Hernandez

Being a food writer during a pandemic is so weird. It has tested me in ways that I never really experienced before. Prior to the pandemic, I tried about four restaurants a week and regularly ate all around town. I could visit three to five local businesses in one day, often rotating locations and doing work on my laptop while grabbing a coffee or tea in between. It was a busy life that came to a halt in March of 2020.

The world has changed and I am not sure right now when it will come back. Now one of the hardest parts is just getting the urge to write at all or to try a restaurant while a plague is literally spreading, much less explain what I think about it and entertain arguments about whether I am right or wrong.

Food writers and critics argued aloud throughout the past year about how reviews should be done during a pandemic, some saying you absolutely should not write a critical review and others saying a review is in the public interest. Despite the debate, much of food writing has shriveled along with the industry itself as ad dollars have become challenged.

Many food writers have become unseasoned labor writers as workers face uncertain times and vicious debates over minimum wage occur, but still at the end of the day you have to eat and like many Americans - I am growing tired of cooking and trying to reinvent what I want to make every week.

My effort to also save money during the pandemic, parallel other Americans who have shifted their budgets into groceries and tried to stretch whatever they have during a time of economic uncertainty.

Initially. I figured I would just replace dining out with takeout, but quickly became aware of how different that is for a food writer. There is no access to the kitchen. You can’t pick up details from observing your surroundings. No picking the brain of the server. No interesting beer or wine pairing. No gossip about what is happening around town. No inspiring bartenders on a mission to create something new. Takeout is a great way to support a local business, but there is no denying that for food writers it is very one-dimensional.

For many people in Florida, it is like the pandemic never happened. They eat unmasked in restaurants and have maintained steady incomes, not experiencing the loss so many others have. It is through these peoples social media feeds that I have stayed plugged into what is happening and there is one spot that has been consistently catching my eye lately: Flan Factory.

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This past weekend I finally decided to try Flan Factory, even if just for take-out. First I had to find it on a map. Flan Factory is located on the edge of Ybor City right near Nebraska Ave. and what is on the other side, the growing Tampa Heights neighborhood. One you’ve seen a photo of it, you know where it is, but before might be a little lost.

Flan Factory has online ordering available and kindly brought the order out curbside for pick-up which was so great. I noticed the employee was wearing a mask as well, which is much appreciated considering the times we are living in.

I ordered a Cuban Sandwich ($10) which they call El Tampeño and two orders of flan. It was only after seeing their packaging that I realized I have encountered Flan Factory in the past at various latinx food festivals as a simple vendor stand. I always looked them over, but passed by without trying as I was usually judging a competition or needed at the stage.

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Flan Factory opened their brick and mortar in October 2020. Owner Joseph Palau was inspired by his abuela, who passed away in 2014, to share his family recipes with the world and what better place to do it than Ybor City. Palau originally didn’t care for flan until he had it with a twist and became what he calls a “Flanatic”, which has inspired his menu which focuses on breakfast and lunch.

Like Palau, I haven’t liked flan for most of my life until I had some made by my Mom. I am so incredibly picky about how sweet flan is, the texture, and also the caramel. Flan Factory serves over 30 flavors of flan and regularly introduces new ones including some very non-traditional ones like a Cinnamon Thai Tea flan.

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I ordered the Café con leche flan ($4) and the Guava flan ($4) to share. The Café con leche was good and the Guava was satisfactory, but neither was the best I have ever had. They were incredibly solid in a good way. Not too sweet or sugary, and a nice texture with each bite. I think with the guava I was expecting more of a regular flan with a guava sauce on top, but instead it was more like a pastelito, which I actually really like alot but not the flavor I was seeking which led to a slight disappointment for me. Since there are so many flavors, I am encouraged to try more in the future and search for the perfect flan.

I definitely think one day when this is all over I would like to do the flan version of cheesecake roulette and just order a ton of different flans with friends to try.

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Now let’s talk about El Tampeño or the Cuban Sandwich ($10) which has slow-roasted Cuban pork, Genoa Salami, Serrano Ham, Melted Swiss, Pickles, Mayo and Mustard on Pressed Cuban Bread. This was one of the best Cuban Sandwiches I have ever enjoyed in Tampa and trust me I have tried dozens of places.

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I split the sandwich with my Mom and we were both so impressed with it. The bread was just the right texture, it had so much flavor. The pork was excellent and juicy...and there was just enough of each ingredient in the sandwich which is what so many places cannot get right. I found myself so enamored with El Tampeño that I could not stop thinking about it.

I immediately posted about it online and started writing reviews all over the internet. Maybe I found my mojo again? Fitting that it would be a Cuban Sandwich that did it.

I highly recommend trying Flan Factory. Although I have only scratched the surface of this menu, I am very encouraged to come back for more. The prices are fair and you cannot miss this Cuban Sandwich. Some menu items I am eyeing on the menu are the Timba or flash fried chunks of queso blanco, served with a side of our signature Guava dipping sauce. I last enjoyed one of these on the shores of Viejo San Juan overlooking the ocean.

Other items are the Havana Frita which is a traditional, Cuban-Style Burger made with a blend of Ground Chuck and Ground Chorizo, topped with Queso Americano, Crunchy Papitas, and Smoky Aioli, Served on a toasted French Roll. You normally won’t find these in Tampa and they are much more common down south in Miami’s Little Havana. As a huge fan of chorizo, I am very interested in trying it.

I also eventually need to try the Café con leche as well to see how it stacks up. Oh how I can’t wait for this pandemic to end so I can go back to my regular schedule.

Please try Flan Factory and then let me know if you have a favorite flan, I am going to be exercising to earn another one soon!

Flan Factory. 1718 North Nebraska Avenue Tampa,FL 33602. (813) 402-2400. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 8AM to 6PM. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. FlanFactoryTampa.com

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I am a writer who covers a number of topics from food to politics and everything in between. Contact: carloshernandesu@gmail.com

Tampa, FL
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